The first that I read of this place was in an article of the Scottish Ecclesiastical Society journal, on the parish history of Horndean. Standing originally at the edge of the ruined remains of the old churchyard, the author W.S. Moodie (1915), told that a long lost,
“grim relic of olden days is said to have existed here till fifty years ago. This was the Witches Stone—an upright pillar with a hole in it, to which the bodies of the poor unfortunates were fastened after they had been glede, while the faggots were piled around.”
A perusal in the Royal Commission inventory (1915) of the same year told that it had been moved several miles northeast to Paxton Cottage (NT 9279 5229) in the adjacent village. It was described as being,
“about 4 feet 6 inches in height above the ground, some 2 feet in breadth, tapering towards the upper end, and about 7 inches thick. Near the top are two perforations, not quite on the same level, about 2 inches in diameter at the surface on either side, constricted towards the Centre, and about 9 inches distant from centre to centre.”
Is this old stone still in existence…?
Moodie, W. Steven, “Ladykirk, or the Kirk of Steill, Berwickshire,” in Transactions of the Scottish Ecclesiological Society, 4:3, Aberdeen 1915.
Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the County of Berwick, HMSO: Edinburgh 1915.
Various ways to get here. From Peebles take the A72 road west to Kirkurd, but after 4 miles turn left onto B712. Several miles down, go past Stobo village and before crossing the bridge over the River Tweed, turn left up minor road leading to Dreva and Broughton. The track into Altarstone Farm is about a mile along and the stone is across the road from there. The other way is going south along the A701 from Broughton village, where you take the left turn towards Stobo. Go along here for just over 3 miles where you reach the woodland (park here where the small track goes into the woods). A coupla hundred yards further along is Altar Stone Farm on your right and the stone is above the verge on your left.
Archaeology & History
Archaeologically speaking, there’s nowt much to say about this site apart from the usual tedium of its measurements and the rock-type. I’ll give the latter a miss, but the stone stands at nearly five feet high and nearly as broad; with its upper face relatively smooth and the top of it pretty flat. A section from the top of this stone was cut and sliced off a few centuries ago and this was said to have been taken to Stobo church a few miles away, where it was fashioned into a stone font for baptisms. If this is true, then it’s possible that this was once an authentic prehistoric standing stone, but we’ll probably never know for certain. Also on top of the stone you can see a number of geophysical scratches, one of which looks as if it may have been worked by human hands and which has some relevance to the folklore of the stone.
It is shown on the 1859 OS-map of the area and was mentioned in the Ordnance Name Book where they told how it was “supposed to have formed the Altar of a druids Temple or some such object,” but they could find no local verification of such lore at the time of their visit… or at least, no one was telling them anything about it…
This fascinating bit of rock—or possible sliced standing stone—is of note due to its association with that old shaman of shamans known as Merlin! Near the end of His days, when He’d truly retired from the world of men and wandered, they say, mad amidst the great lowland forests, an old christian dood by the name of Kentigern—later known as St Mungo—who’d been trying to convert our old magickian away from the animistic ways of Nature. Legend says that He succeeded. The old Scottish traveller Ratcliffe Barnett (1925) wrote:
“Merlin is the real genius of Drumelzier. Dumelzier means the Ridge of Meldred, a pagan prince of the district. And it was Meldred’s shepherds that slew Merlin the bard. The heathen bard was present at the battle of Arthuret in the year 573, when the christian army gained a victory over the Heathen Host. Merlin fled to the forest of Caledon at Drumelzier and there ever after the old Druid spent his life among the wild hills with a repute for insanity. This poet priest was doubtless heart-broken at the defeat of his pagan friends. The old order was changing. But the christian king had brought his friend, St Kentigern or Munro, to preach the gospel in upper Tweedside at Stobo. One day Kentigern met a weird-looking man and demanded who he was. “Once I was the prophet of Vortigern (Gwendollen). My name is Merlin. Now I am in these solitudes enduring many privations.”
“So Kentigern preached the gospel to the old nature worshipper and won him to Christ. Up yonder, at the east end of the Dreva road, you will find the rude Altar Stone where, it is said, Kentigern received the Druid into the christian church and dispensed the sacrament. But in those dark days of the faith, the Druids and their pagan adherents fought hard against the new religion. So immediately after the admission of Merlin to the Church, the shepherds of Meldred sought him out, stoned him to death on the haugh of Drumelzier, and there, where the Powsail Burn falls quietly into Tweed, Merlin the Martyr was buried. For long his grave was marked by a hawthorn tree.”
These shepherds were said to have stoned him and then threw his body upon a sharp stake and then into the stream. (stone – wood – water)
If there is any hint of truth in this tale, it is unlikely Merlin would have given himself over to the christian ways unless—as any shaman would—he knew of his impending death. In which case it would have done him no harm to pretend a final allegiance to the unnatural spirituality that was growing in the land. But whatever he may have been thinking, it is said that this Altar Stone was where he made such a deed.
An equally peculiar legend—variations of which are found at a number of places in the hills of northern England and Scotland—speaks of another shamanic motif, i.e., of humans changing into animals and back. For here, legend tells, an old witch was being chased (by whom, we know not) across the land. She’d turned herself into the form of a hare and, as she crossed over the Altar Stone, her claws dug so deeply into the rock that they left deep scars that can still be seen to this day. From here, the hare scampered at speed downhill until reaching the River Tweed at the bottom, whereupon transforming itself back into the form of the witch, who promptly fled into the hills above on the far side of the river.
One final thing mentioned by Barnett (1943) was the potential oracular property of the Altar Stone:
“You have to only place your hand on top of this rude altar, shut your eyes, and if you have the gift you will see visions.”
Ardrey, Adam, Finding Merlin, Mainstream 2012.
Barnett, Ratcliffe, Border By-Ways and Lothian Lore, John Grant: Edinburgh 1925.
Buchan, J.W. & Paton, H., A History of Peeblesshire – volume 3, Glasgow 1927.
Crichton, Robin, On the Trail of Merlin in a Dark Age, R. Crichton 2017.
Glennie, John Stuart, Arthurian Localities, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1869.
Moffat, Alistair, Arthur and the Lost Kingdoms, Phoenix: London 1999.
Rich, Deike & Begg, Ean, On the Trail of Merlin, Aquarian: London 1991.
Wheatley, Henry B., Merlin, or, The Early History of King Arthur – 2 volumes, Trubner: London 1865.
Acknowledgements: Big thanks for use of the 1st edition OS-map in this site profile, Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland.
To be found in the grounds of Belmont House School, just 1¾ miles (2.8km) north of Derry’s otherColumba’s Stone, this is one of the many petroglyphic “footprints” that folklore ascribes to Ireland’s saint Columb/Columba/Columbkille (and other variants). Said to have originally been carved at the great fortress of Grianan of Aileach, 4½ miles (7.2km) to the west, this great block of stone—roughly 6 feet square on top—has the distinct sculpturings of two feet, each about 10 inches long, etched into its sloping surface. Archaeologically speaking, there’s little more to say about the stone; but its traditions are another thing altogether and are of considerably greater importance…
Like the carved footprint on top of Dunadd in Argyll with its association of tribal initiations, the traditions relating to this footprint follows the same path, so to speak. It was H.P. Swan (1938) who gave us a good summary of the olde lore here, telling that,
“It is almost absolutely certain that it was brought from the Grianan of Aileach after its destruction, probably by an O’Doherty for his own installation. If so, the task of removal was no joke, for the stone weighs some seven tons. It was the “crowning stone” of the Kinel-Owen, or, in other words, the stone upon which the chieftains of the great O’Neill clan were inaugurated. They reigned in Aileach for many centuries.
“At his installation, as supreme head of the clan, the newly-chosen chief was placed upon this stone, his bare feet in the footmarks; a peeled willow wand was put into his hand, as an emblem of the pure and gentle sway he should exercise over his tribe; an oath was administered to him by the chief ecclesiastic in the neighbourhood, that he should preserve inviolable the ancient custom of his country, and deliver the succession peaceably to his tanist (successor); after which, descending from the stone, he turned himself thrice backwards and thrice forwards, to signify that he was ready to meet all foes, from whatever quarter they might come; and was then, with wild acclamations, hailed as their chief by his assembled clan.
“At the time of Ireland’s conversion to christianity by St Patrick, that holy man visited the Grianan (about AD 443), where this stone had been so used for centuries before; Owen was then King; he was converted from Paganism to the new faith and baptised by Patrick; at the same time, the saint consecrated this stone, and blessed it as the crowning-stone of the Kinel-Owen for ever. Time, however, has proved his blessing futile, as may be read in the account of the Grianan, which was deserted by the Kinel-Owen after its destruction by the O’Briens in 1101.”
The ritual described here cannot be taken lightly, nor seen as a presentation of fiction, for its ingredients are found echoed in kingship rites in many cultures.
Swan, Harry Percival, The Book of Inishowen, William Doherty: Buncrana 1938.
Crosses / Legendary Rocks (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – SE 1975 2909
Archaeology & History
Not to be confused with a much more renowned namesake above Ilkley, this was the name given to two old stones that once existed in the middle of the East Bierley hamlet (as it was then) southeast of Bradford. They were two large boulders next to each other, not far from the early farmstead of Cross House (see map, right) and were described in James Parker’s (1904) historic collage of the area, where he informed us that:
“On the village green (are) the primitive large stones locally called the “Cow and Calf stones,” which used to be in days gone by a Preaching Cross and Market Cross.”
When William Cudworth (1876) described the place nearly thirty years prior, he only mentioned a single cross, telling us:
“There is a lane which has long been called Kirkgate at Birkenshaw, leading up to an ancient cross on the hill. The fact of this cross being on the hill must have given rise to the name Kirk (church) gate, as there was not, until a few years ago, any church at Birkenshaw. In a previous paper we had occasion to notice the existence of the cross as an evidence of a pre-church period.”
The meaning behind the name Cow & Calf is unexplained by our respective authors, although Cudworth’s citation of “the cross as an evidence of a pre-church period” is probably not without merit here. It seems very likely that the animal names of the two large stones—akin to the Cow & Calf Rocks at Ilkley and others of the same name elsewhere in the country—that sat near the top of the hill, probably possessed a creation myth similar to others of the same name. From this, it seems logical that local folk held the rocks as important, which would have obviously attracted the regressive attention of Church; so they stuck a cross here to christianize the place and in doing so ensured that local people could continue using the place as a meeting place. This practice (as if you didn’t already know) was widespread.
Although Mr Cudworth seems to give the first real account of the place, field-name records of 1567 listed a ‘Cowrosse’, which may have been the “cross on the Cow” stone. A.H. Smith (1961) listed the site and suggested the element –rosse may derive from a local dialect word meaning a marsh, but a ‘cow’s marsh‘ seems a little odd. It is perhaps just as likely that an error was made in the writing of rosse instead of crosse.
Cudworth, William, Round about Bradford, Thomas Brear: Bradford 1876.
Parker, James, Illustrated History from Hipperholme to Tong, Percy Lund: Bradford 1904.
Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 3, Cambridge University Press 1961.
This large boulder found off the Cromarty coast, was highlighted on the 1880 OS-map of the region. It is one of the ancient boundary stones of the township.
We know from the vast array on the folklore of stones that many were imbued with magickal abilities, some of which were witnesses to vows and others to make curses from. This large boulder off the coast of Cromarty was, according to Donald MacKenzie (1935), a place where the latter used to be done. He told us:
“At Cromarty there is a big boulder known as the Clach na Mallachd (‘Stone of Cursing’). Curses were delivered when an individual stood or knelt bare-kneed upon it.”
In an earlier account by the Ordnance Survey lads in one of their Name Books, they gave the following tale that had been narrated to them:
“A large stone Situate at the Low Water, and forming one of the boundary Stones of the burgh, the reason of its having this name is, that a young lad while Sitting on it was overwhelmed by the advancing tide and drowned, his mother when told of it, cursed the stone, hence the name Clach Mallach (Accursed Stone)”
MacKenzie, Donald A., Scottish Folk-lore and Folk Life, Blackie: Glasgow 1935.
A bit troublesome to locate if you don’t know the area. Get into the town centre where the paved St George Square is by the main road. Cross the road and go up Hill Street, which runs straight into Ferntower Road. A few hundred yards up turn left up Ewanfield, all the way to the very end at Crieff Hydro. From here you’ll see the path uphill by the tennis courts. Walk up and past the holiday chalets until your hit the road that curls round the bottom of the woods. Go along until you find the car park and just above here by the roadside is a tourist board showing the Knock Walk footpath. The Cradle Stone is about 250 yards up the Knock Walk from here, 100 yards into the woods on the right.
Archaeology & History
This large broken boulder is the result of it once living further up the hillside. One of Nature’s great forces then kicked the olde fella and he rolled down the hill to its present position. It was mentioned in a detailed 19th century geological survey by Mr Thomson (1836), where he told:
“At Crieff, in Perthshire, there occurs a series of low hills running parallel to the Grampians. These hills consist of old red sandstone and greywacke. On one of them, the Cnock, the village of Crieff is built. Upon the south-east side of this hill, towards the southern extremity, not far from the summit, there are deposited a number of boulder stones of syenitic granite. The largest of these is called the ‘Cradlestone’. It is nearly spherical, quite smooth on the surface, and 29 feet in circumference. It has been split in two by lightning, (according to the tradition of the place,) and one of the fragments has made one complete revolution down the hill and then stopped. The weight of this boulder is about 30 tons. The nearest mountains of syenitic granite, are those in the neighbourhood of Bennevis, distant more than 60 miles north-west…”
The stone was subsequently entered in Fred Cole’s (1911) outstanding survey of the local megaliths, although acknowledged it has having no archaeological pedigree. The Cradle Stone, he wrote, is
“the appellation printed in Old English lettering on the Ordnance Map, given to one of two huge boulders difficult to find in the fir-woods at the western extremity of the Knock, and at a height of nearly 600 feet, midway between Knockearn House and Culcrieff. On visiting the site, the conclusion became apparent that these two blocks were merely natural curiosities, and had no interest for the archaeologist beyond the name.”
In volume 10 of the New Statistical Account it was told how local folklore attested the Cradle Stone as being where the babies came from, perhaps intimating some fertility legend long since forgotten.
The main thing attached to this giant broken stone is the old folk-tale that used to be more well-known in the 19th century than it is today. It was narrated at length in Macara’s (1881) fine pot pourri of local histories and legends and which I hope you can forgive me citing in its entirity here:
“In the memory of men still living, two well-known weavers, named James Livingstone and James M’Laren, lived in Barnkettick, at the west end of the town. Livingstone was a thorough wag, and M’Laren was somewhat of a simpleton. Livingstone was in the habit of telling his neighbour all sorts of extravagant stories about ghosts and witches. The facility with which the latter fraternity could turn themselves into hares and scamper about was an accepted fact, which M’Laren as truly believed as his Bible.
“The Rocking or Cradle Stone on the brow of the Knock, behind the town, was supposed to be of Druidical origin, and for ages drew forth the fear and wonder of the natives. A belief prevailed that something valuable was buried in its foundation, and worth lifting, if it could only be got at. Livingstone having heard of “Whang, the Miller” directed McLaren’s attention to the subject of valuable treasure being beneath the cradle stone, which was greedily swallowed, and he expressed his astonishment that no one tried digging for it.
“Livingstone suggested that they both should try it, and divide the spoil. M’Laren agreed, and it was resolved to make the attempt that night after dusk. The necessary picks and spades were soon borrowed. Livingstone called on an acquaint- ance or two, and informed them of the “ploy,” and they readily agreed to arrange and have some fun at the “howking” of the treasure.
“The acquaintances were up at the spot early, with a view to set some snares for hares, so that the journey would combine pleasure with profit. They had also provided a few “squibs” for contingencies. At the time appointed the two weavers, with their implements on their shoulders, arrived at the stone and set to work. M’Laren did so with strong impressions of a coming calamity, which soon made him feel the greatest terror. Livingstone worked with a will, and upbraided M’Laren with cowardice.
“With that a strange, unearthly sound came up the hill, and on looking round, a ball of fire was seen careering through the underwood. M’Laren felt queerish and almost speechless. Another hissing sound was heard, and the strange fire came nearer. Livingstone still wrought on, telling M’Laren never to heed, as these things were only bits of falling stars. M’Laren thought otherwise. They were in the neighbourhood of Monzie, where it was certain there were plenty of witches, and it was evident something “no canny” was brewing. He would have given anything to have been at his loom.
“In an instant three or four fiery darts from different directions came hissing along, and darted through the heath at their feet. M’Laren was paralysed with fear. Livingstone ceased work instantly, and jumping out of the trench he made, yelled he smelt brimstone, rushed from the stone and was lost in the darkness. Poor M’Laren’s limbs trembled like a leaf and were scarcely able to support him. As he was trying to follow his companion, another fire shower rained about him, and down the hill he went like a deer, yelling on Livingstone to wait on him.
“As he neared the parks above Milnab, the hares acid rabbits were scampering in all directions, and a few found their necks in the snares, which caused them to squeal at the pitch of their voices too. M’Laren being now thoroughly convinced that the witches were let loose, speed was added to his limbs, and with supernatural fleetness he bounded over all obstructions and found himself in an instant or two in his room, and jumped into bed. A cold sweat broke out all over his body and his heart beat with sharp thuds, shaking the bed. It was some time ere he could collect his scattered senses, so as to realise whether or not he was dreaming. The moisture in his eyes caused every blink of the fire to appear like the horrid hissing fire darts of the Knock. After a time he fell into a stupor, the recent events being still vividly before his mind.
“His cronies on the Knock tumbled amongst the heather and broom, shouting with joy at the success of the scheme. After giving vent to their excited feelings they went back to the Cradle Stone and lifted the picks and spades, and on their way home went round the snares and found a good “take.” As they were killing the hares, Livingstone suggested that a live one be taken to M’Laren, which was readily agreed to. On reaching home, Livingstone slipped into M’Laren’s house, and all seemed at rest. Creeping quietly ben to Jamie’s end of the bigging, he tied the live hare to the foot of his bed. As he was retiring he jostled against the hen roost and set the cock a-crowing, which so far roused Jamie that he thought it was scarcely morning yet. The cock crowed away, and soon the neighbouring roosts bestirred themselves, and all the cocks in the neighbourhood returned the vocal sound, as if it were morning.
“Poor Jamie, on reflecting, resolved that if he got over the present raising of “Auld Clootie” scathless, he would pledge himself never to trouble him or his again. As he thus pondered he thought he heard a strange pattering on the floor, and an occasional slight pull at the bed. On straining his eyes and looking floorwards he saw something not unlike a reputed witch moving about the foot of the bed. On closer observation this was fully confirmed, and he instinctively roared for help. His daft brother was now roused, and he roared also, and the hamlet dogs lent a willing voice. The wags who had collected outside rushed in, and on putting some fir roots on the fire the blaze showed Jamie, nearly demented, in bed, with his wearing clothes still on, and some dogs entering the room set a-worrying the hare. At the sight of well-known faces Jamie jumped out of bed. So much excited that it was feared that the joke had been carried rather far. Livingstone was still equal to the occasion, and drawing a bottle of whisky from his pocket handed round a few glasses, and in a short time “they didna care for deils a boddle.” Jamie was advised to divest himself of his clothes and go to bed, which he did, and soon fell into a deep sleep, and awakened next morning not much the worse. The affair got wind, and many a country fireside was made merry by the story of the Cradle Stone treasure.”
Legendary Rock (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – TF 3127 6901
Also Known as:
Big Stone of Slash Lane
Archaeology & History
There is no specific archaeological information about this stone. However, we must take note of the so-called “devil’s footprint” that was on the boulder. In some parts of the UK, some devilish and other mythic footprints on stone are prehistoric cup-markings; but we have no idea whether this impression was such a carving or—more probably in this case—Nature’s handiwork. The field in which the stone existed was said to be the place where the so-called Battle of Winceby occurred.
The stone was mentioned in several old tomes, with each one generally repeating the same familiar story, and with motifs that will be familiar to antiquarians and folklorists alike. In an early edition of Notes & Queries we were told of,
“the large stone in Winceby field, where soldiers had sharpened their swords before the battle. This was a stone of fearful interest, for much treasure was supposed to have been buried under it. Numerous attempts have been made to get at this treasure, but they were always defeated by some accident or piece of bad luck. On the last occasion, by ‘yokkin’ several horses to chains fastened round the stone, they nearly succeeded in pulling it over, when, in his excitement, one of the men uttered an oath, and the devil instantly appeared, and stamped on it with his foot. “Tha cheans all brok, tha osses fell, an’ tha stoan went back t’ its owd place solidder nur ivver; an’ if ya doan’t believe ya ma goa an’ look fur yer sen, an’ ya’ll see tha divvill’s fut mark like three kraws’ claws, a-top o’ tha stoan.’ It was firmly believed the lane was haunted, and that loud groans were often heard there.”
The tale was retold in Grange & Hudson’s (1891) essay on regional folklore. In Mr Walter’s (1904) excellent local history survey, there was an additional shape-shifting element to the story which, in more northern climes, is usually attributed to hare; but this was slightly different. The stone, as we’ve heard,
“was supposed to cover hidden treasure, and various attempts were made at different times to remove it, sometimes with six or even eight horses. At one of these attempts, his Satanic Majesty, having been invoked by the local title of ‘Old Lad’ appeared, it is said, in person, where upon the stone fell back, upsetting the horses. On another occasion a black mouse, probably the same Being incarnate in another form…ran over the gearing of the horses, with a similar result. Eventually, as a last resort, to break the spell, the boulder was buried, and now no trace of the boulder, black mouse, or Satan’s foot-print remains.”
Sadly we have no sketches of the devil’s ‘footprint’; and if local lore is right, we’ll never know. For tis said that a local farmer in the 1970s dug down and removed the stone completely. All that he found were numerous broken ploughshares around the rock, indicating that many tools had been used to shift the stone.
Grange, Ernest L. & Hudson, J.C. (eds.), Lincolnshire Notes and Queries – volume 2, W.K. Morton: Horncastle 1891.
Gutch, Mrs & Peacock, Mabel, Examples of Printed Folklore Concerning Lincolnshire, David Nutt: London 1908.
Walter, J. Conway, Records, Historical and Antiquarian of Parishes around Horncastle, W.K. Morton: Horncastle 1904.
On the outer southern edge of Kilbarchan parish—right near the ancient boundary line itself—this giant stone of the druids is seems to be well-known by local folk. Located about 40 yards away from the sacred ‘St Bride’s Burn’ (her ‘Well’ is several hundred yards to the west), it was known to have been a rocking stone in early traditions, but as Glaswegian antiquarian Frank Mercer told us, “the stone no longer moves.” The creation myths underscoring its existence, as Robert Mackenzie (1902) told us, say
“This remarkable stone, thought by some to have been set up by the druids, and by others to have been carried hither by a glacier, is now believed to be the top of a buried lava cone rising through lavas of different kind.”
The site was highlighted on the first OS-map of the area in 1857, but the earliest mention of it seems to be as far back as 1204 CE, where it was named as Clochrodric and variants on that title several times in the 13th century. It was suggested by the old place-name student, Sir H. Maxwell, to derive from ‘the Stone of Ryderch’, who was the ruler of Strathclyde in the 6th century. He may be right.
Folklore told that this stone was not only the place where the druids held office and dispensed justice, but that it was also the burial-place of the Strathclyde King, Ryderch Hael.
Campsie, Alison, “Scotland’s Mysterious Rocking Stones,” in The Scotsman, 17 August, 2017.
MacKenzie, Robert D., Kilbarchan: A Parish History, Alexander Gardner: Paisley 1902.
Acknowledgements: Big thanks to Frank Mercer for use of his photos and catalytic inception for this site profile.
Legendary Rock (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – NS 5493 7710
Also known as:
Historic Environment Record Stirling 3745
Echo Stone on 1865 Map
Archaeology & History
A recent communication to us from Alan McBride (2021), the historian for the Mugdock Country Park, has given us an accurate appraisal of this site which has, sadly, passed into the Realm of the Lost. The following paragraphs are what Mr McBride has discovered in his personal exploration looking at the history of this once legendary stone. He writes:
“As the name suggests, one would stand at, or on, the Echo Stone facing Mugdock Castle and upon shouting the voice would reverberate off the high walls of the castle and come back as a long clear echo. It was a feature on Montrose’s estate, but when it came into existence is unknown. Historical maps give an idea of when it disappeared though. The Ordnance Survey map of 1860 shows the Echo Stone adjacent to Mugdock Castle in open ground (now woodland) close to the boundary of Mugdock Wood at the steep crag. The Ordnance Survey map revision of 1896 shows the Echo Stone and in brackets (site of) and the area planted as woodland.
“Put into historical context, the map of 1860 was produced not long after Archibald McLellan’s tenancy at Mugdock Castle, at which point the old Georgian house was still standing. By the time the revised map of 1896 was produced, John Guthrie-Smith was the tenant of Mugdock Castle. He was responsible for demolishing the old Georgian house and building the Victorian mansion in its place. He was also responsible for the design and planting of many trees in the areas surrounding Mugdock Castle and Loch, one of these areas being where the Echo Stone was located. It is believed by local historians that the stone, decorated with engravings, was either stolen during the time the castle and estate was vacant after McLellan’s death, that it was pushed over the crag into Mugdock Wood where it remains buried under vegetation, or that it was removed during the planting of the area by Guthrie-Smith.”
Of particular interest to myself (PB) is the mention of it being “decorated with engravings.” My first response (obviously!) was that such carvings may be prehistoric. A short distance east of here—and also lost—was the Loch Ardinning cup-and-ring stone, so our Echo Stone may have been a carved compatriot. When I enquired about this, Mr McBride told me,
“Regarding the stone being decorated with engravings, this was a local historian who told me this many years ago. He had been told himself, when he was younger, that the Echo Stone would have been a feature seen from the castle and therefore had decorative features on it. He has since passed away and it is the only reference I’ve had to it being decorative. It would make sense though.”
An early literary record of the stone can be found in Hugh MacDonald’s (1854) work, in which he wrote:
“There is an echo of considerable local celebrity at Mugdock, the reverberative powers of which are frequently put to the test by visitors. The spot from which the echo is most distinctly heard is a slightly projecting rock, on a verdant declivity, about a hundred yards to the south of the castle. A person standing on this, looking towards the edifice, and speaking pretty loudly, will hear his words, or even short sentences uttered by him, repeated with startling distinctness, as if from some mimic at the old tower. Of course, we give the echo sundry specimens of our vocality, and to its credit we must say that it flings them back with amazing fidelity. Paddy Blake’s echo, which on the question being put to it of ‘How are you?’ invariably answered ‘Pretty well, I thank you!’ was unmistakeably a native of the land of Bulls. The Mugdock one must be as decidedly Scottish, as it answers each question put to it by asking another. If there were any doubt on this subject, however, we might mention, in support of our supposition, that it is quite au fait at the Gaelic, as we proved to the entire satisfaction of a cannie bystander, who, after listening in silence for some time to our mutual interrogations in that classic tongue, at length exclaimed, ‘Od, man, that’s curious! Wha wad hae thocht that a Lawlan’ echo could hae jabbered Gaelic?'”
Samuel Lewis, writing before 1846, told us that,
“At a distance of about 300 yards from this castle is a remarkable echo, which distinctly reverberates a sentence of six monosyllables, if uttered in a loud tone; and this not till a few seconds after the sentence is completed”.
We can only speculate as to how people in distant times reacted to this echo, and it is interesting how MacDonald’s Gaelic-speaking friend reacted, almost as if he believed it to be a living organism which he did not expect to reply in his own language.
McBride, Alan, Personal Communication, April 15, 2021
MacDonald, Hugh, Rambles Round Glasgow, Descriptive, Historical & Traditional, John Smith & Son: Glasgow 1854 & 1910.
Lewis, Samuel, A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland – 2 volumes, S Lewis & Co.: London 1846
Although the lads at the Scottish Royal Commission (1974) initially described this site as a ‘Standing Stone’, it is in fact,
“an erratic boulder of granite roughly shaped in the form of a cross… It measures 0.8m in height, 0.6m in width at base, and 0.4m in width at the top…(and) the stone is supposed to have marked a boundary.”
The site was evidently of some mythic importance, as the great Cathedral of St. Moluag was built next to the stone — unless the giant cairn of Cnoc Aingil, 500 yards away, was to blame. A holy well of this saint’s name (an obvious heathen site beforehand) is also nearby.
Although this stone was dedicated to swans, I’ve not found the story behind the name. There were no buried swans here, but local tradition told that this old boulder could give sanctuary to anyone who touched it, or ran round it sunwise. The Hebridean folklorist Otta Swire (1964) told that,
“anyone who claimed such sanctuary had his case considered by ‘the Elders.’ If they considered his plea justified, they ‘came out and walked sun-wise round the Swan Stone.’ If they did not approve of his right to sanctuary, they walked round it anti-clockwise and the man was then given over, not to his enemies, but ‘to Authority’ to be tried.”
This old tradition derives from well known pre-christian rites. Swire also reported that even in the 1960s here, “at funerals the coffin is always carried round the grave sun-wise before being laid in it.” An old cross placed in the Field of the Cross next to the stone was an attempt to tease folk away from heathen rites of the stone, but failed.
Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – volume 2: Lorn, RCAHMS: Edinburgh 1974.
Swire, O.F., The Inner Hebrides and their Legends, Collins: London 1964.